MOSCOW - The opposition demonstration that drew tens of thousands of people in Moscow on May 6 ended in violence that left dozens of riot police and protesters injured and led to mass arrests. Over several subsequent nights, police detained hundreds more opposition activists who strolled through the Russian capital in a nocturnal “people’s march.” The opposition’s latest tactic takes a page from the global “Occupy” movement.
Several hundred opposition activists are camping out in the Chistye Prudy area of central Moscow, in an action organizers are now calling “Occupy Abai,” after the 19th century Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai Kunanbayaev, whose bronze statue sits amid the encampment.
A cafeteria of sorts has been set up to feed activists, while impromptu sing-alongs and poetry readings are held to help keep up spirits.
Olga, a college student, says she felt more comfortable coming down to “Occupy Abai” then to the May 6 protest rally, which was dubbed the “March of Millions.” “I can do such things: I can help with the meals, with the boiled water, with something else. But I could not - I don’t have enough power to go for such events as (the) March of Millions," she said.
Thus far, “Occupy Abai” has been, for the most part, left alone. However, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said Friday that the protesters were camping out “illegally” and police would “definitely” shut down the action sooner or later.
One of the opposition leaders, Ilya Yashin, says the movement will not be intimidated. “It’s like psychological pressure. But they’ve already tried so many times to intimidate us with clubs and threats: it’s not possible to intimidate us; it’s not possible to disperse us," she said.
Several top opposition figures were among the hundreds of people arrested during and after the May 6 demonstration, including Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. Both men were jailed for 15 days for disobeying police orders and remain in custody.
Another opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was arrested on May 6 and released after paying a fine. The veteran liberal politician visited the Occupy Abai campsite, urging Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who will attend the Group of Eight summit in the U.S. next week, to drop by. “Nobody’s going to hit you; nothing’s going to happen to you,” Nemtsov said. “People just want to ask you questions.”
Some protesters fear a different kind of official visit. This sign asks the Moscow mayor to protect city residents from the “lawlessness” of the riot police.